New Internationalist, May 1998 i301 p32
Global Spin: The Corporate Assault on Environmentalism, Sharon Beder, Vermont: Chelsea Green Publishing Company, 1997.
If you care a fig for either democracy or the environment, then Global Spin
is a book for you. It is a thorough - and thoroughly shocking - account of the
sophisticated techniques being used around the world to undermine environmentalism
and reset the agenda to status quo.
Sharon Beder, a senior science lecturer at the Australian University of Woolongong, details a wide array of strategies. For example, the use of specialized PR firms to create environmental front (or `astroturf' groups) to further corporate causes By manipulating politicians, the media, and community groups, the anti-green spin doctors weave their subtle and invisible webs. Beder cites an alarming plethora of examples from North America, Australasia, Britain and other European countries and reveals the links between green-sounding bodies and their corporate backers and creators.
So, the National Wetlands Coalition with its flying duck motif is, we learn, funded by Mobil and Shell; the Clean Air Working Group is formed by coal companies, and the Australian Mothers Opposing Pollution group, whose prime purpose is to oppose plastic milk bottles, is run by a PR company boss who also happens to be a consultant to the Association of Liquid Paperboard Carton Manufacturers.
The covert power of corporations is making itself felt at every level, from government to the street - as US citizen Betty Jane Blake discovered. When she opposed developer Terra Homes Inc. who wanted to cut down some trees in her street, she found herself faced with a $6.6 million law suit from the company for defamation, interference with business and trespass. Her crime: she had put up signs saying `This neighbourhood will not be Terrarized' and tied red ribbons around the tree trunks. The company also sued all residents who attended a protest meeting and who, through fear, then abandoned the campaign.
This is absurd yet depressing stuff and it leads the author to the inevitable conclusion: `A new wave of environmentalism is now called for that will engage with the task of exposing corporate myths and methods of manipulation.' Or in the words of one Earth Island Journal writer: `We've simply got to get the hogs out of the creek. As Aunt Eula knew, this is not a chore to undertake with your best trousers, politely pleading: "Here hog, here hog... pretty, please". To get hogs out of the creek, you have to put your shoulders to them - and shove... Yet most national environmental organizations today are indeed dressed in their Sunday trousers, engaged with soft-hands work of lawyers and lobbyists in Washington, sincerely but futilely attempting to negotiate the relative positions of hogs...'
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